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What's Up Magazine

Pro Bono Publico

May 09, 2014 10:03AM ● By Cate Reynolds
How legal and philanthropic circles can collide in a very good way

By Ann Powell

Abraham Lincoln once said, “As a peacemaker, the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” If we look within our communities, it seems Mr. Lincoln was right. There are plenty of opportunities to work pro bono publico—Latin for, “for the good of the public”—and our community of legal professionals is willing and able to help.

Maryland attorneys are encouraged, but not required, by their Rules of Professional Conduct to render fifty hours per year of legal service without fees or at reduced rates. Most of this pro bono work is provided to people of limited means and to charitable, religious, civic, government, and educational organizations.

Attorney Frank Campbell of the Annapolis law firm Holden and Campbell takes this responsibility seriously, providing his estates and trusts expertise to local institutions and individuals, including the families of deceased combat veterans. He notes that, “There are many worthwhile local causes, and attorneys are obligated to use our education and experience to assist the greater community.”

Across town, family law attorney Anita Deger provides her pro bono legal services in a very different format. As a court certified mediator, Deger is called upon to provide free mediation services in child custody matters with the Circuit Court.

Mediation is a voluntary dispute resolution process in which a professionally trained neutral mediator assists quarreling parties to resolve their conflicts. The process avoids costly litigation while preserving relationships and resolving differences among the participants, who agree to be bound by their mediated agreement.

In the recent past, Deger has provided pro bono mediation services to low income and physically disabled clients, including some who were incarcerated or in drug rehabilitation facilities. Some of these clients also receive free legal representation through the Legal Aid Bureau, YWCA Legal Services, or the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service. In other cases, free mediation is provided by the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center, a nonprofit mediation resource funded through grants, donations, and volunteers.

One beneficiary of the pro bono legal work of local attorneys is The Summit School, a not-for-profit school for students with dyslexia and learning differences. The school’s founder and past CEO Dr. Jane Snider is grateful for the donated legal services that helped her to establish and operate the school for the past twenty-five years. She notes, “As the former CEO of a nonprofit, I know that nonprofit budgets are based on need, and there is no cushion for unexpected expenses. The attorneys who donated their services helped us to minimize our costs, and we are always beholden to them—It’s an important partnership all the way around.”

Margo Cook feels the same way. As the Planned Giving Officer for the AAMC Foundation, Cook observes, “We are honored to have compassionate advisors working with us. Professionals contributing their services make an enormous difference at AAMC, and their altruistic community service advances our vision for a healthier community.”

Annapolis attorney David Plott of Linowes and Blocher believes that “when a law firm commits to pro bono work, whether it is assisting at a soup kitchen or serving on a nonprofit board, it elevates the culture of the firm in a tangible, positive manner.” Plott is the Board Chairman of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce and has assisted the Scenic Rivers Land Trust and Leadership Anne Arundel. His law partners have served on the boards of many local organizations including the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Anne Arundel County Public Library, and Annapolis Rotary, to name a few.

Plott adds, “The community is the foundation of our success, both professionally and personally. It is in the context of the community that our professional and personal lives have meaning. Pro bono work reinforces that connection.”

There are times when the ultimate beneficiaries of pro bono legal assistance are unaware of the aid provided—such as those served by the Lighthouse Shelter, which works to provide shelter and services to end homelessness. Executive Director Elizabeth Kinney recently called on Annapolis attorney TJ Mulrenin with the need to create a tax-exempt entity for channeling public and private funds toward ending homelessness in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Mulrenin and his associates went to work creating a corporation and filing for tax-exempt status.

Annapolis attorney Sam Brown and his partners at Hillman, Brown & Darrow provide their services free of charge to local charities and serve on various governing Boards. The firm also successfully appealed through the court system several pro bono cases on behalf of local charitable and civic organizations. Brown notes, “I know that the term ‘giving back’ is clearly overused, but that is what occurs. When you have a set of skills that is beneficial to needy individuals or useful to organizations that are making a difference, then it is your duty to help out when you can.”

The attorneys in the Jaklitsch Law Group have served with various civic organizations and defended pro bono criminal cases. Attorneys Deborah Potter and Suzanne Vetter donate their time to Anne Arundel County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which advocates for abused and neglected children. Attorneys with other Annapolis law firms serving as CASA officers include Christopher Buck and Thomas Simmons.

On both sides of the Bay Bridge, our communities are home to many accomplished attorneys who donate their time for the public good. “Whether it is reviewing nonprofit tax exemption filings, helping out with logistics, providing legal advice, or just showing up at board meetings, attorneys take pride in helping individuals and philanthropic organizations to achieve results for the community good,” Brown says.

Frank Campbell agrees, saying, “You don’t decide to hang out a banner to do pro bono work. A problem comes before you, and you take care of it. It’s not about how smart you are or how good you are—someone who really cares about the community and who doesn’t fight to keep every penny can give it away—and feel good about it.”

Ann Powell is an attorney with Mulrenin and Associates LLC, and provides pro bono services to the Coalition to End Homelessness and other 501(c)(3) organizations, including Broadneck High School booster organizations and the Federated Four Rivers Garden Club.